Sunday, December 27, 2009

FMOC Readership Survey 2009: Win a $15 Gift Certificate to iTunes!

Nearly a wrap, 2009 is tick-tick-tick-ticking away....

Against the clock, I briefly reflect on the year that was for FMOC.  This is post number 28, my final of 2009.

What started as an experimental, weekly muse in January subsequently became a self-imposed, death-defying biweekly publishing schedule in June. The results, while not altogether measurable, have been favorable—insofar as I am concerned.

While often having to dig deep on Sundays, following fun-filled weekends or before hard-hitting weeks of work, to produce some semblance of content, I managed to put forth intelligible posts on every cycle.

FMOC has been a satisfying experience for me on many fronts, but I can call out a few in particular:

1. It has afforded me a sliver of a presence online, complimenting my life offline.  In a lighthearted way, I have crafted a brand.  We are in a period for/of publishing like none other; the means to produce content is there for all.  To anyone with even a remote interest in creating a blog, book, you name it, wait no more.

2. It has been a tremendous vehicle to keep in touch with friends, old and new alike.  I don't know exactly how many people read FMOC or visit the website, but here and there, I get a comment, online or offline, which justifies the effort I give toward it and reinforces the experience as rewarding to me.

3. To teach is to learn.  FMOC is my chance to learn about random subjects that are of interest to me, and by writing about them, I teach (that is the idea, anyway), therefore increasing my own learning—and writing.

The CEO of Accenture, Bill Green, has been quoted saying, "...we keep one foot in today and one foot in tomorrow."  With his words in mind, I turn an eye toward the year ahead, with a request for your feedback.

It will be your gift to me. I want to know: should I continue to write FMOC in 2010?  And, if so, what improvements can be made to make it more enjoyable to you, the reader?

I quickly assembled a readership survey, using SurveyMonkey.  Its seven questions will take you no longer than two minutes to answer.  Not every question is required (*).  To sweeten the deal, I included one question (number 2) that, if answered correctly, provides a chance to win a $15 gift certificate to iTunes.

Click this link to gain access.  Please be honest in your replies, completing the survey by January 8.

If the general response is to keep FMOC alive, I will consider all suggestions, eventually weaving them into the blog's design, functionality, and most importantly, content.

To everyone who has read thus far, many thanks for one year of satisfaction.  I wish you much happiness, health and prosperity in 2010.  (I have a positive feeling about it... you should too!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Life: Not Tapping Out

Although never a supreme athlete, I have always stayed active and competitive, mostly through team sports—baseball, basketball, football, etc. But with age, responsibility and a full calendar, it has become harder to be involved with any group athletics.

Nowadays, I take brisk walks or jog, usually in the morning, which is my time to ponder the day ahead. I often follow those trips around the block with push-ups or sit-ups and other calisthenics to maintain strength and flexibility.

Early this year, though, I rediscovered a sport that currently has my attention—one that combines individual focus and team orientation and draws on my competitive nature: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).

Wikipedia provides a suitable description of BJJ, “…promotes the principle that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger assailant using leverage and proper technique; most notably, by applying joint-locks and chokeholds to defeat them. BJJ can be trained for sport grappling tournaments (gi and no-gi) and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. Sparring (commonly referred to as 'rolling') and live drilling play a major role in training, and a premium is placed on performance, especially in competition.”

In the 1990s, BJJ was made more prominent outside of Brazil by renowned expert Royce Gracie, of the famed Gracie family, which is credited with founding this particular style of fighting. Royce took the MMA world by storm, winning three of the first four Ultimate Fighting Championships.

All told, I have spent almost a year in Brazil, most of which was in Sao Paulo. It was in “Sampa,” as the megalopolis is routinely called by its habitants, that I first discovered BJJ. With a friend who lived nearby, I dropped into a class one night and was immediately captivated by its natural flow. Despite the initial attraction, I never made it back to another class while in Brazil.

Fast forward five years to 2009. While driving through the Houston Heights, one of the city’s historic neighborhoods close to Cherryhurst, I came upon the Brazilian Arts Foundation, and within it, The Heights Jiu-Jitsu Club. I recognized this club as an opportunity to conveniently acquire a new skill, all while reconnecting with the rich culture and heritage of Brazil.

A day or two later, I phoned Marcos Cerqueira, the club instructor, who has a black belt from the Carlos Henrique Jiu-Jitsu Team and an impressive fighting record in his own right.  (Click here to watch a short video.)

Our conversation went like this....

"Marcos, I have a lot going on during the spring and the summer; maybe I should wait until the fall to start your class.”

He replied, “Okay, that’s fine, but why don’t you drop by a class one day next week, have a look, then come back whenever you are ready.”

His open attitude was the only impetus I needed.

I stopped by the Brazilian Arts Foundation one night during the following week to check out my first BJJ class in Houston. I was hooked from that point, ordering an Atama Gi a few days later.

Marcos subtly continues to push BJJ to the top of my priority list, hinting that noticeable improvement comes with increased commitment, a truth I cannot disclaim.

Last weekend, we had our annual belt ceremony at BreakAway Speed, a training facility for Houston area athletes and where Marcos also trains students. To my surprise, I was awarded a stripe on my belt, an incremental sign of progress before graduating from one belt color to the next—hardly an accomplishment for some, but fun for me nonetheless.

(Me and Marcos; courtesy of Emily Covey)

(Marcos Cerqueira Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Class; courtesy of Emily Covey)

Life has generally improved for me since making the choice to try BJJ, so for that alone, I take a moment to thank Marcos for encouraging me to keep at it.

By no stretch am I the most dedicated person who trains under Marcos, nor are my goals as lofty as those of many of his other students. I try to attend two classes a week. I have not fought in a tournament yet, and frankly, am not sure that I ever will. Be that as it may, I have still learned a lot from practicing BJJ over the last several months.

There is certain respect for the opponent and self-control in BJJ that I appreciate. I enjoy the camaraderie shared among team members. I like the mental aspect to BJJ, which can be equated to a game of chess, one person reacting to the every move of another.

There are untold parallels between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and life off the mat.

In fact, this morning, while reflectively reading a book, Streams in the Desert, I paused to reread a Bible verse (Galatians 6:9), which basically states a challenge, by Paul to the Galatians, “to keep on doing good and to not give up.”

This verse rings as true in life as it does in training BJJ.

While our lives are not full of joint-locks and chokeholds, we inherently face difficult situations. Just like in BJJ, the strategy in life is to overcome the challenges we face, growing stronger all the time by learning from others.

Not tapping out.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Recharge Your Batteries

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a ‘connector.’ Maintaining connections with people is an activity that I thoroughly enjoy. I consider my network of friends and associates as one of my most valuable assets.

I also maintain a high level of productivity in whatever I do, be it work or play. I make it a priority to continually improve upon my productivity, focusing on the tasks worth performing, rather than those whose ends are undefined and do not build upon a reasoned purpose.

Being connected and productive is fulfilling and contributes to the rich life I lead. However, the combination requires much work and can be draining of energy.

It is not easy to disconnect and decrease productivity, recharging my batteries, but it is an essential component to being well, so I do it as often as often as I can.

What, in your life, creates stress or is exhausting? Whatever the drain is, step away from it—especially if you have not done so lately. You will be glad you did.

Recharging my batteries usually means travel, the more adventurous the better, ejecting myself from the normal routine—ideally, for at least ten days—resisting all temptations of the norm.

I turn off my PDA and leave behind my PC, shirking work altogether and allowing for total mental recuperation. I seek culture, reading and writing and engaging secondary languages, which, in my case, are Spanish and Portuguese.  Physical exertion is a plus, too. I like to be outdoors, preferably riding a bike or taking a hike.

I find that when I return from time away from the norm, my relationships are stronger than before and I am as productive as ever.

I am fortunate in that Accenture, my employer, places a high value on its employees spending time out of the office. The company provides us five weeks of “paid time off,” plus a fair number of holidays throughout the year…an unbeatable perk, of which I take advantage.

I realize that, for a variety of reasons, you may not have access to the same benefit of exiting the grind. I realize that travel might not be your bag. But whatever it is that wears you down, identify it, and then completely step away—even if for a few days. And notice the difference.

Time away for your typical day is energizing and leads to improved health and happiness. You owe it to yourself and others to recharge your batteries.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing

Earlier this year, when fall fell upon us, I took the time to write Fall Means Football Season.

What I have realized since then is that fall, in fact, does mean football season. But as for this fall, it also means weddings. And by that I mean five weddings in six weeks!

Emily and I have had the pleasure—and “I do” mean pleasure—of attending all five. This weekend marked the final one of the run. Hallelujah.

Emily and I are both from Houston, two years apart in age. We attended the University of Texas, obtaining the same degree while there but never knowing each other. Although we are from the same city and attended the same college, we have enough years between us that our circles of friends are not the same. There is some crossover among them, but not a lot.

We are lucky to have as many friends as we do. However, it can make for a busy schedule, socially, when many of them are marrying in such a short span. That’s what happened this fall.

To protect the innocent, I will not provide details of any of the nuptial events, but will briefly expand on a handful of observations that I find noteworthy upon reflection of their happening.

Of the five weddings, in three, Emily’s friends were tying the knot, and in the remaining two, my friends were. Nary a one included mutual friends as the bride and groom. Meaning, it is likely that I would not have been invited to three and she would not have been invited two had we ourselves not been married.

Of the five weddings, in three, one of us was in the wedding party—she in two and I in one. So, in those cases, not only were we attending these ceremonies and receptions (all on Saturdays), we were also attending the rehearsal dinners (all on Fridays), among other wedding-related activities. Three of our fall weekends were planned by people other than us.

Of the five weddings, four were in Houston. Three of those four took place at the same local country club. The fifth wedding took place in Dallas. And all of the weddings were “Texas-sized.”

Of the five weddings, two took place at the same time as University of Texas football games, approved by engaged UT grads and longtime Longhorn fans, the bride in one wedding, and the groom in the other. This, despite Mack Brown’s counsel to schedule weddings around games in a Texas Monthly article, Come Early. Be Loud. Cash In., issued in 2008.

Of the five weddings, all were fancy, with tons of tasty food and limitless drink, of which I partook on every occasion. Fortunately, no major hitches (fainting or jilted brides, etc.) transpired at any of them.  Remarkable, really.

With that, I wish all of our wedded friends much love and happiness—and thanks. For the truest form of happiness to me comes now, as today marks the end of a season... the wedding season. Lucky for us all, fall continues, which can only mean one thing: it is still football season!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jolly, Orange Jerseys, and Two Dead Guys

Never one to get pumped up about putting on a costume for Halloween, or to get into the haunting "spirit," I approached this year’s holiday no differently than I had any other in my post-college years: none too excited.

An exception is that it was the first All Hallow's Eve that we have spent in Cherryhurst.

In addition to first-time homeownership, 2009 brings on a series of firsts, especially as we find the holiday season upon us. (I can picture it now... our first Christmas tree!)

One of these firsts was carving a pumpkin. Emily and I spent an hour transforming ours into a jack-o’-lantern on Friday night. It turned out okay.

(Jolly is born; photo courtesy of Emily Covey)

We named the smiling calabash “Jolly” and set him outside to welcome trick-or-treaters, a singular task which he succeeded in performing.

(Jolly, lighted and awaiting trick-or-treaters; photo courtesy of Emily Covey)

We were out of candy to give before the night ended! Supposedly many of the kids had been brought into the neighborhood from others in the city—a surprise to all three of us. Jolly held up fine, in spite of all the foot traffic.

This year’s Halloween fell on Saturday, so there was also a fortunate coincidence that the Texas Longhorns (my alma mater of the famed burnt orange colored jerseys) were playing football. They faced the Oklahoma State Cowboys, a team that wears a brighter shade of orange, defeating them handily, stepping one game closer to the 2010 Citi BCS National Championship Game.

On hand to quaff we had a couple bombers of Dead Guy Ale, produced by Rogue Ales of Oregon, capturing the theme of the night accordingly.

As Halloweens go, this year’s was full of firsts and surprises. But Jolly, orange jerseys, and two dead guys made it more memorable than I was expecting.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jester Round the Corner

Emily and I went to the 26th Annual Dixie Cup, one of the nation’s oldest homebrewing competitions, on Friday night. Local homebrewers have been congregating at this event to talk shop and quaff each others’ ales since 1983, when their craft was legalized in Texas.

While I am fan of craft beer, I have never actually brewed anything (other than trouble). Nevertheless, I thought it would be educational to attend, tasting the local flavor. As it turns out, the Dixie Cup was a cheap date (for me)—and time well spent for both us.

To provide some history here, Emily and I officially entered the craft beer world together via a visit to Saint Arnold Brewing Company in July, 2007, and then again on our honeymoon in June, 2008, when we visited several breweries in and around Portland, Oregon (aka, Beer Town); we have been refining our pallettes for independently brewed beer since then.

We arrived to the Dixie Cup early and overdressed, not knowing what to expect. We encountered a potluck dinner for which we were ill-equipped. No matter. Accompanying the homemade food was a line of tapped kegs from selected state breweries, commercial and otherwise.

Taking in the scene, we immediately met two guys with an idea—and the entrepreneurship qualities that just might lead them to filling an apparent void, relative to the rest of the country, in Texas craft brewing.

Jeffrey Stuffings and Michael Steffing—despite the subtle difference in surnames—are brothers and business partners. They are following Jeffrey’s dream to transition from homebrewer to pro brewer.

I sampled their product, and it is excellent. The Das WUNDERKIND! was surprisingly hoppy, which I prefer. I also liked one of their others, the Rex Machina, as it was both sessionable and smooth, especially following the chocolate brownie I had noshed just minutes before.

Jeffrey, a graduate of Notre Dame, is a longtime homebrewer who has lived in Austin for a couple of years. He is acting on his dream now, recently dropping his job as an attorney to pursue this endeavor full time, while Michael moved to town three months ago to help him realize it.

(Jeffrey Stuffings, a pretty lady in a dirndl, and me; courtesy of Emily Covey)

Their brewery, all 4,000 square feet, will be situated southwest of Austin and will be called Jester King Craft Brewery. Its name fits, capturing Jeffrey’s penchant for creating “high-quality, hand-crafted beer that thrives on artistry and creativity.”

As taken from its website, the company's founding description reads….

“In Medieval Times members of the Royal Court shared ancestry with—or owed political favor to—the King. The Court Jester was exceptional to this Noble Order. A blacksmith too reflective for life over the anvil or a farmer whose wit exceeded his ability to sow the fields, the Jester was plucked from the Masses to amuse the Court. Access and Privilege afforded the Jester unique Freedom to cast satire without fear of reprisal; his antics were, after all, merely in jest. Creativity, Guile and Cunning set this Wise Fool apart from the Noble Order.

Craft Brewers are the Jesters of Modern Times. Their daring and irreverence contrast with the King of Beer's Commodification and Economies of Scale. The artful, talented jesters at Jester King Craft Brewery are free from commercial restrictions; their minds guide their hands toward imaginative black licorice porters, wildflower wheat ales and port barrel-aged Belgian brown ales. While the King of Beer seeks to control the Kingdom, the Jester hops and dances on the Throne!”

Jeffrey and Michael are in the process of assembling the necessary finances to put it all together, and they are nearly there. They are seeking $500,000, selling a 38% equity stake in their business. Expecting to have the capacity to produce 15,000 barrels of beer per year and a bottling facility by mid-2010, they are 86% of the way to their goal. (Note: Jester King has not yet ruled out canning its beer.)

At this time, roughly 5% percent of the company remains available for purchase. To investors with interest, stake your claim while remaining shares are available. For further information on the opportunity and access to their executive summary, click here.

Finances aside, here are a couple of points I like about the founders of Jester King:

1. Their opportunistic foresight. They are part of a movement supporting locally made products, that has swept the country and is arriving to Texas. Jester King is in pole position to benefit from such growth, capitalizing on successes already reached by other state breweries like Real Ale Brewing Company, of Blanco, and Saint Arnold, a company with a vision I have previously described.

2. Their plan to buck the system—with temperance. They will produce beers that are “extreme,” a term oft-used in craft beer brewing and made famous by Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head. With that in mind, after chatting with them, Jeffrey and Michael seem to understand that, to be profitable in a state where beer education is not totally materialized, they will need a light lager or a style that resembles the beers that we Texans are accustomed to drinking.

Here's to Jeffrey and Michael, and their irreverent approach to brewing. I commend their entrepreneurial spirit as well as the creativity and passion behind their beer. Let's raise a glass to the Jester as King… round the corner he comes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

My Moment With The Man

On Saturday, Emily and I dropped a couple of friends, in from New York City, off at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, deciding not to go ourselves—primarily because of the day’s torrential rainfall. We opted instead for a drier atmosphere and plates of raw fish at Uchi, Tyson Cole's sushi restaurant on South Lamar.

Before we sat to eat, while waiting for the bathroom, I found myself standing behind one of the world's single greatest athletes (and Austin resident celeb): Lance Armstrong.

It took me a few seconds to notice, but as sure as it was wet outside, there was he, the seven-time Tour de France winner, in front of me in the line to take a leak.

My realization was confirmed when a trio of ladies darted out of the powder room, located across the hall from the men’s room, and the most assertive of them promptly asked, "Can we take a picture?"

To her question, Armstrong replied, "If you take one, then it will turn into more by others." (I paraphrase here, but that was more or less his answer.) I understand why he would initially refuse, but was momentarily surprised by his answer.

The alpha female was neither surprised nor deterred. Relentless in her quest for a picture, she asked him again, this time with a renewed focus on herself and a clearer endgame, "Can I take one, of just you and me?"

He agreed without saying anything. With that, she squeezed herself close to him, and ready for action, with a slick cell phone in hand, extended her arm in front of them, snapping a picture of herself and the superhuman, who, like a polished city councilman, knew when to smile: cheese.

After the satisfied lady left the hall, it was him and me, both of us waiting to do the pre-dinner deed. It was the beginning of my moment with the man. I knew, based on his previous comment, that he preferred to not be bothered, so I did not attempt to make any conversation. (There would be no pictures either.)

As I stood there thinking, the first potential topic of discussion that would not be had was his book, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life," which I read with interest a few years ago. But I did not bring it up. Rather, I continued to wait, noticing his short but solid stature and checking his sneakers—a pair of Vans.

The story has been told many times, but it bears repeating, and for anyone who does not know, Armstrong's battle against cancer is epic—a phenomenal medical success, which bolsters the aura of even Lance, making his dominant victories in France look like Sunday strolls.

The disease started as stage-three testicular cancer and ended up spreading to his lungs, abdomen, and brain. Initially given a less than 40% chance of survival, he beat cancer like a drum—all of it. Armstrong is the man, and I wanted to tell him.

Less than a minute later, out popped a dude from the bathroom. Unprompted and not smiling, Armstrong quietly cracked, “two toilets in there and you lock the door?" Silenced, the poor fellow left the scene immediately. The champ took the stage with no further comment.

At that point, I was left there with a decision to make, do I leave Armstrong alone to his business, or do I follow him into the bathroom? With his latest comment in mind, enter I did. By the time I set foot inside, he had already opted for the better choice, the urinal, while I stood over the other option, a standard toilet.

There I am, back-to-back with Lance freaking Armstrong, peeing. I was not going to let the unusual circumstances spoil my opportunity to tell him what was on my mind. Calmly, I finished before he did, beating him to the sink.

After washing and drying my hands, I faced him and said, "You're the man, brother." To that sophisticated praise, he responded, "Thanks."

That was the extent of our conversation. At least I had elicited a response. I was not displeased with my comment, and apparently, neither was he.

I exited stage right, as he moved to clean his own hands. Feeling accomplished, I returned to our table, letting Emily know who I had just seen. She was perhaps more excited than I, texting the news to the girls we had dropped at Zilker Park.

Armstrong's group, which originally numbered ten or so, was seated near us, growing in size over the course of their meal. I glanced over from time-to-time, noting that he was checking his iPhone often. He was also continually taking sips of red wine—deepening my respect for him.

As we got set to leave—by this time the rain-soaked festival goers had rejoined us—I looked again to Armstrong’s table (his party stayed later than ours—impressive, given that it was well after midnight when we left). This time my stare caught his attention. As it did, he gave me a nod, perhaps one of additional thanks—this time, for not bothering him after all.

That was my departing thought anyway, and it, friends, sums up my moment with the man.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Random, Yet Brief Thoughts on The Post-American World

After a draining weekend, in an effort to stick to my biweekly publishing schedule, I am drawing on every ounce of energy I have this evening to produce content on this time around. With reflection upon a book I just finished, The Post-American World, I persevere, posting a random, yet brief entry.

I picked up The New York Times Bestseller from, of all places, the Houston Public Library. In this age of e-books, who goes to the library anymore? You know, it is surprising how active with people the library actually is.

My dad, to name a familiar person, frequents the library. So does my granddad, although he does not visit the main branch as my dad and I do. With respect to posterity, by going to the library, it occurs to me that I am simply carrying forward a family tradition.

When I check out a book, which is not with any regularity, there are always people milling around the place or standing in line to check out their selected materials. I am often amazed by how many books some of these people take with them on a single visit... stacks, dozens, all of them for a standard two-week check-out period.

Anyway, enough of the downtown library scene, and back to the topic du jour.

The ever-expanding influences of India and China are affirmed in The Post-American World. Plenty of supporting insight and research is offered on how those two countries are rising in every major respect (culturally, economically, militarily, etc.) to match the historically mighty United States.

Fareed Zakaria, the book’s author and Editor of Newsweek International, hails from India, having arrived to the States as an 18-year-old, so his close vantage point on that climbing nation is fresh and worthy of inclusion. The surging importance of China is obvious--even to the uninformed--and it is easy to understand why the book would be incomplete without substantial focus on it.

Told from a post-9/11 perspective, Zakaria does not dwell on India and China alone. A few countries in the Middle East are cited, and integrating his full view on the so-called BRICs, Zakaria also includes Brazil and Russia as part of the story.

Zakaria contends that the "rise of the rest" is not necessarily obstructive to the US, stating that American innovation is part and parcel to a flourishing world economy, and will be for generations to come.

In a final note regarding the book, toward the end of it, describing the US' military presence in Africa, Zakaria makes reference to a Mark Twain quote, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” For some odd reason, that famous utterance evokes a smile from me every time.

With a smile indeed, I close with a national shout out to my friends in Chile, who celebrated their independence from Spain on Friday and through the weekend—was the chicha worth the hangover?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fall Means Football Season

Out of respect for labor--or the lack thereof--on this holiday weekend, I revert to my original method of posting content--a less laborious approach to that which has been employed in recent posts, when more thought and time was committed.

The drill then was simple, a stream-of-conscious exercise to promptly produce blog material on a weekly basis. (It has since become biweekly.) I would sit down for an hour, writing what came to mind, and then give Emily, FMOC’s editor-in-chief, my seat to review the outcome.

(For more on the process above, you can click on one of my earliest entries: Balancing Content.)

Traditionally, Labor Day in the United States marks the symbolic end of summer, and fall supposedly arrives. It hardly feels like fall in Texas, though, as triple-digit heat is no stranger to September.

Regardless of temperature, there is major importance assigned to this seasonal change, even if unofficial. Above all, fall means that American football season is officially upon us.

My football fanship is focused on two formats: college and professional.

At the collegiate level, my heart beats with--and only with--The University of Texas, my alma mater.

On Saturday evening in Austin, the Longhorns, the second-ranked team in the country, had a positive start to the season, defeating the lowly Warhawks of The University of Louisiana at Monroe in front of 101,096 people at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. The overwhelming victory, 59 points to 20, was expected--more or less. (The odds-makers picked the 'Horns to win by 41.)

Unexpected, however, was that our chief rivals, the Sooners of The University of Oklahoma, lost their first game to the Cougars of Brigham Young University, and worse (for them), lost their Heisman Trophy quarterback, Sam Bradford, to a shoulder injury, which will keep him off of the field for at least a few weeks.

Bradford's loss bodes well for our Longhorns, whose season, year-after-year, hangs upon their match-up with the Sooners, which is coined the Red River Rivalry and takes place in Dallas.

Over the last couple of years, professional football has become a new game to me. While my allegiance stands with the Houston Texans, my home city’s team, who kick off their season against the New York Jets next Sunday, my true fanaticism is devoted to the widespread phenomenon that is fantasy football.

In a league that is made up mostly of a group of friends, self-proclaimed “Football Geniuses,” one buddy and I share a team. We call it Graham's Team, named after his young son. Not serious, but competitive, fantasy football is one of a handful of hobbies (another being this blog) that will occupy my time outside of work this fall.

Our draft on Wednesday night was at a local Houston restaurant, Ragin Cajun. Over buckets of beer and poboys, we completed it in three hours, with each team making 16 picks. After a disappointing third-place finish last year, expectations for Graham's Team are loftier this year.

With trades and other additions and drops inevitable, our lineup could change over the next 17 weeks, but our base list of players are below:

1. Matt Forté--Running Back, Chicago
2. Steven Jackson--Running Back, Jacksonville
3. Aaron Rodgers--Quarter Back, Green Bay
4. Roddy White--Wide Receiver, Atlanta
5. Willie Parker--Running Back, Pittsburg
6. Antonio Gates--Tight End, San Diego
7. Jamal Lewis--Running Back, Cleveland
8. Jay Cutler--Quarter Back, Chicago
9. Bernard Berrian--Wide Receiver, Minnesota
10. Antonio Bryant--Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay
11. Eagles--Defense and Special Teams, Philadelphia
12. Laveranues Coles--Wide Receiver, Cincinnati
13. David Akers--Kicker, Philadelphia
14. Redskins--Defense and Special Teams, Washington
15. Bo Scaife--Tight End, Tennessee
16. Shayne Graham - Kicker, Cincinnati

As this fall is upon us, I have high hopes for exciting football. My eyes are on a Citi BCS National Championship for the Texas Longhorns and fantasy bragging rights and cash winnings for Graham's Team.

As the season unfolds, I will report back as to how both teams stand.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Organize Your Personal Life Online

On the right side of this blog, below my profile picture, there is a section called “Chad’s Channels.” Please take two seconds to glance at it. Thanks.

Next to each of those channels is a number in parenthesis. The number refers to the number of blog posts that are aligned to each channel. In many cases, single posts fall into multiple channels.

These channels [“tags” or “labels” in web-speak], are keywords and short phrases that I can use to describe most any topic relevant to me. At the base of any post, some of those same channels are in view.

On one Sunday, feeling a little drained by online content and seeking a life less focused on the computer, I sat with Emily at one of my favorite coffee shops, Catalina Coffee, and formed 20 channels. The idea was that all things I need to keep organized in my personal life could somehow be grouped within them.

They are not perfect, and I have modified them since that day earlier this year, but for the most part, they remain pat and work for what I was originally aiming to accomplish. The byproduct is that I now have an interconnected structure to organize my life online, increasing time spent off the computer (i.e., life offline).

Across my personal computer (PC), there are four locations where I employ this simple system to direct traffic--particularly digital content and electronic files.

1. My Blog
2. My Bookmarks in Internet Explorer
3. My Documents
4. My Email Account

I try not to tweak the channels much in any area, as spending any time dwelling on their meaning defeats the purpose of allowing them to free me from spending time chasing files and searching unnecessarily for otherwise-lost emails. The important idea is that their naming is consistent, no matter where on my PC they reside.

There can be folders within folders, or bookmarks within bookmarks, no big deal. All of my channels are in alphabetical order. 12 of them are single-worded, and the remaining ones are double-worded. All the double-worded categories are meant to describe better what it is that I intend to capture.

Most of the channels are self-explanatory. Below, next to each one, I have written a brief description just in case. And to give you an idea of what is in my bookmarks, I also included one website that I have aligned to each category, allowing this post to be somewhat fun. Do enjoy.

1. Budget
- All things budget; day-to-day, what am I spending and how much am I saving?
2. Cars
- All things cars, for both Emily and me; current and future cars
- Davis Chevrolet
3. Clothing
- I do not do a lot of shopping, especially for clothes, but when I do, it is often online.
- Ownly Custom Designed Shirts
4. Culture
- This serves as a bit of a catch-all: books, humor languages, movies, museums, and the like.
- Houston International Festival
5. Education
- Primarily college-related stuff, plus other resources for research, etc.
- The University of Texas at Austin
6. Entrepreneurship
- All websites, files, email messages, etc., that interest me from a commerce perspective
- Houston Technology Center
7. Food + Drink
- Restaurants in our home city, Houston, our home-away-from-home city, Austin, and all else gastronomique
- Yelp
8. Friends + Family
- Yep, this one is a good one to keep organized.
- H'town w/Emily Covey
9. Health + Fitness
- Doing physical activity on a daily basis is important to me, and always has been.
- Heights Jiu-Jitsu Club
10. Home + Vicinity
- Related to our home and neighborhood, Cherryhurst. Why ‘vicinity’? Well, the word ‘neighborhood’ is a little too specific, too long, and did not quite grab all I wanted to capture.
- Cherryhurst Civic Association
11. Investing
- I am not much of an investor, but I like to watch other investors and occasionally will tinker with investments of my own.
- Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
12. Music
- I listen to a lot of music online and offline, and this section is rather well organized, especially in bookmarks.
- Austin City Limits
13. Politics
- I pay close attention to politics on a number of levels.
- Stratfor
14. Service + Non-profit
- A man needs to do his share of volunteering and giving.
- Casa de Esperanza
15. Social + Networking
- I am a networking fiend; the email inventory within this channel is pretty stout.
- LinkedIn
16. Spirituality
- Boxing spirituality into a category feels weird, but it enables me to check church schedules and study the Word in a way I never imagined.
- Chapelwood United Methodist
17. Sports
- Big topic. I have not yet written a sports-related post; expect one soon.
- National Football League
18. Technology
- This is a huge area, especially in bookmarks–as I am always dabbling in new technologies.
- Jing
19. Travel + Adventure
- All conversations I have related to travel are saved here. I like sharing hard to find travel information, and I go directly to my channels to find what I can offer.
- Wikitravel
20. Writing + Speaking
- I am hardly a writer, and apart from going to a few Toastmasters classes, I have not done much public speaking. But I like both and therefore keep this category.
- MediaBistro

It goes without saying that, while the example I used here referred to my own PC’s organization, the same principals can be used for organizing your workstation.

If you are not doing something like this already, and feel that your life online needs straightening, this method just might do the trick. Consider your interests, what you like to do, how you spend your time and form your own channels.

If your life online is disorganized, it can limit the freedom you have in your life offline; but take steps to establish a personalized order, and the opposite effect can be true. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

An (August) Outdoor Music Festival in Houston

The Free Press Summer Fest presented itself in Houston this weekend. Set at Eleanor Tinsley Park, with a view of the city's downtown skyline behind its stages, the two-day festival was as much as one could have hoped for and more.

Ride your bike, bring a blanket to sit on, and wear your swim suit!” was the festival motto, befitting of the summery scene alongside Buffalo Bayou.

Hardly Lollapalooza, which also took place over the weekend—in Chicago—the far smaller and less promoted Free Press Summer Fest boasted a lineup that was formidable in its own way.

Popular bands such as Broken Social Scene, Explosions in the Sky, Of Montreal, and hometown favorites, like The Small Sounds, pleased festival goers despite typical heat, humidity and even rainfall.

Houstonians persevered though, not without a little help from Vitamin Water and Anheuser-Busch and craft beer products provided by Silver Eagle Distributors. The dunking booth and snow cone stand were cool features too.

As festivals go, the Free Press Summer Fest went well–especially since this was its first year on the calendar–and brought out many of the positive qualities and colorful people that the Space City has to offer.

Houston does not regularly find itself on the summer music festival destination route–or any summer destination route, for that matter. Thought of in the concert world as a stop-over between New Orleans and Austin, the city attracts top-of-the-chart musicians now and again, but not with frequency. There is hope for change.

When a conversation in Texas turns to live music, Houston is often overshadowed by Austin, host of the gold-standard SXSW Music and Media Conference and C3 Presents-run ACL Music Festival. Anyone who has attended either annual event knows how well-coordinated and enticing to sponsors those are.

To understand the significance of the Free Press Summer Fest being in Houston, one must recognize that this country's festival culture has grown steadily in recent years. Click any festival name below to grasp what this phenomenon has become.

The Echo Project
Jazz Aspen Snowmass
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
San Francisco’s Outlands Music & Arts Festival
Treasure Island Music Festival

Fun for people of most ages, music festivals are on the rise in an industry that has otherwise been flattened in the digital age. No longer Woodstock; these events are money-making ventures put on by can-do entrepreneurs.

Logistically challenging, however, they are not easy to organize and pull off.

Props go to Omar Afra for bringing the Free Press Summer Fest to Houston, a city that was hungry for it. Afra is publisher of the Free Press Houston, originator of the Westheimer Block Party and part-owner of Mango’s Café.

Here’s to another serving of hot music in 2010 – please, just not in August!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Ulimate Entrepreneur: Warren E. Buffett

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows I like entrepreneurs. In one post, I went so far as to define entrepreneur. I believe that entrepreneurs are the very foundation of our nation's economy, providing the innovation that supports it.

Well, in recent weeks, I have discovered the ultimate of all entrepreneurs: Warren Edward Buffett.

Until my dad passed me The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, written by fellow University of Texas alumnus, Alice Schroeder, my interest in and knowledge of Buffett was cursory and limited. I have been referred to his Shareholder Letters a number of times, but after downloading them, I would never follow through with the required reading.

Just this year, a close friend of mine, a Buffett fan himself, invited me to Berkshire Hathway's Annual Shareholder Meeting, the boondoggle that attracts as many as 30,000 people to Omaha. I was not able to attend with him, but our plan is to make the trip in 2010.

Back to the book, Schroeder, a former analyst who covered Berkshire Hathaway, spent five years writing the 838-page biography.

In the forced march it must have been, the author received all-access interviews to one of the world's top billionaires as well as the people in his life. She secured a $7.2 million contract and Buffett's word to not change any of her work, a promise he apparently kept.

It is a fascinating look at the evolution of a man, a real personality, who some call an oddball. Aptly named, The Snowball demonstrates Buffett's keen understanding of the compounding effect of money.

The book also details his personal life, which in its beginning stages, was hugely influenced by his father, Howard, whose towering presence led him to the United States congressional seat in the Nebraskan district where Omaha was located.

However, the Republican's isolationistic and right-wing tendencies eventually caused him to be voted out of Washington DC following three terms in office.

As a young man, Buffett read voraciously. One of his favorite books was titled One Thousand Ways to Make $1,000 (or one million dollars, as Schroeder points out to the reader). Buffett announced to one of his best friends at the time that he would be a millionaire by the time he was 35.

His early business endeavors included selling golf balls, publishing horseracing odds and tirelessly managing his own newspaper routes. And it was those business pursuits that would serve as the wet snow which would form the makings of Buffett's "snowball." It had already begun to roll downhill, picking up speed as it did.

Buffett's entrepreneurial drive caused disconnects to form between him and his peers on a social level; the book depicts that Buffett's skills left a lot to be desired. Able to recognize his own social inferiority, Buffett turned to a book entitled How to Win Friends and Influence People.

It was a bit later in life, in college especially, that Buffett began to develop his natural ability as a teacher. He used his firm handle on investing to effectively connect with people, who might have otherwise been more socially adept.

Perhaps the most unrealized trait of Warren Buffett is his mastery as a teacher. He imparts wisdom and life lessons on his investors, students and family. How Buffett can put complex investing concepts into plainspoken language is a gift, and people gravitate to him for it.

To potential entrepreneurs, Buffett advises, "It's crazy to take little in between jobs just because they look good on your résumé. That's like saving sex for your old age. Do what you love and work for whom you admire the most, and you've given yourself the best chance in life you can."

As his own life progresses, Buffett seems to have softened; his views have been shaped by his first wife, Susan, and perhaps even more so, by Bill Gates, to whom he gave 85 percent of his fortune in 2006 so that it could be put to work through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Buffett has never lost his uncanny ability to strike as an investor.

While he was not unaffected by the latest economic downturn, it is in these times that he often displays his unique wherewithal to rise above the rest, as he did with his investment in Goldman Sachs, practicing what he often preaches, "Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful."

Last year's Goldman investment must have led him to reflect on when he was ten years of age and his dad took him to Wall Street. While there, Howard's connections and persistence afforded them opportunity to meet Sidney Weinberg, a well-known business leader and senior partner at Goldman.

As they left his office, Weinberg asked, "What stocks do you like, Warren?" which left a lasting impression on Buffett. Little did either of them know then that Buffett would later make such a financial impact on the firm.

After returning home from New York City, he realized what money could do to create freedom. In The Snowball, his fondness of money was stated as, "It would make me independent. Then I could do what I wanted to do with my life. And the biggest thing I wanted to do was work for myself."

Warren E. Buffett's life can be distilled to a few key qualities: supreme investor, brilliant teacher and, in later years, heavyweight philanthropist. But above all, Buffett is an entrepreneur, the ultimate in my book.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Little Help from Our Friends

Because he is gallivanting on the other side of the planet, Mr. Covey asked me to make a guest update on his b-l-o-g. My name is William Marshall, Jr. I've got my own blog called "The Tilling of the Land" where this and other blurbs have been posted.

So, I've known Chad since we were 14 or 15 years old and consider him one of my best friends. I live in the ATX. In the last couple of months, I've started a business called Austin Auditors that reviews building's energy efficiency (visit the website at Currently, the business is geared towards residential construction. This business was inspired in part by the City of Austin passing an ordinance mandating energy audits for homes being sold that: 1) are over 10 years old; and 2) do not meeting certain qualifications. Ultimately though, the idea is to move into doing energy audits for people who intend to stay in their home and want to make upgrades to their homes to improve its energy efficiency.

Surprisingly, there are a number of home improvements that can be made that cost less than $500 and have a noticeable effect on both home comfort and the energy bill. Examples are: 1) improved insulation, 2) sealing up leaky AC ducts, and 3) improving solar shading.

Moving along with the theme of energy efficiency, I am going to give you 3 tips that can have a real effect on reducing your consumption of resources and won't be monumental adjustments to your lifestyle.

1) Use compact fluorescent light bulbs, a.k.a. CFL bulbs.

These things are ubiquitous nowadays and you probably have a bunch of them up already. If you haven't seen them, they look like the bulb to the right.

If every household in the country used one of these guys rather than an incandescent bulbs, it would be a pollution reduction similar to taking a 1,000,000 cars off the road. The CFL bulb uses about 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb and lasts about 10 times longer. Yeah, they cost more at the store, but over the life of the bulb, you'll save over $30 when compared against the incandescent bulb. Plus you don't have to change them nearly as much. And changing a light bulb is a pain in the heiny.

Don't toss out your working incandescent bulbs though. Wait until they burn out and then go buy CFL bulbs to replace them. Click here for a fun site about CFL bulbs.

2) Drink less bottled water and more tap water.

First off, bottled water produces 3,000,000,000 pounds of plastic waste per year, about as much waste as the combined annual waste of San Antonio and Atlanta.

Second, bottled water is no more healthy than the water coming out of your tap (sometimes the bottled water is the water coming out of your tap - take a look at the fine print of some of the larger Ozarka containers and it reads something like this "Source: Houston Municipal Water Supply"). The FDA regulates bottled water and the EPA regulates tap water. However, because 70% of bottled water doesn't cross state lines the FDA can not inspect it. Furthermore, the EPA has stricter guidelines for the quality of water than the FDA does. I don't think that any water you're going to buy, whether tap or bottled, will have any negative health consequences, I just thought that the regulation was interesting.

Also, you like those pearly whites that so many Americans have? Thank your municipal water supply and keeping drinking the tap water filled with all that fluoride. The Center for Disease Control identifies community water fluoridation as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

What if you don't like the taste of tap water? For instance, here in Austin, every fall and spring, the tap water tastes like algae. The solution is easy: a water filter. You can even buy one that attaches to the tap so you don't have to fill up a Brita pitcher.

3) Brush without running the water.

I used to put the toothpaste on the toothbrush, turn on the faucet to wet the toothpaste, and keep the faucet running the whole time I was brushing. I didn't even think of the fact that I was actually using none of that water running down the drain. Over the last couple of years, I turn the water off once I've wet the toothpaste and I'll turn it back on at the end when I actually need the water.

If you do this, you'll save close to five gallons of water per day. If the whole country did this, we'd save close to 1,500,000,000 gallons a year.

Three simple ways to reduce consumption and pollution and none of these will really inconvenience you. Here's a link to list of 47 more relatively easy ways to assure that our resources and our world will stick around for more generations.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Publish or Perish, Fortnightly

It has been two weeks since my last entry, which means one thing… time to post again. Without further ado, let’s get started.

I recently read (for the second time) Good to Great, written by acclaimed author and researcher extraordinaire, Jim Collins. No matter your profession, I highly recommend this book.

Whether it is The Hedgehog Concept or First Who, Then What, armed with examples, Collins elaborately lays out timeless principles that can be simply applied to business or any passion.
They are derived from an unimaginable five years of research.

Collins writes of rigor, and how it is a characteristic endemic to the “good to great” companies. He explains that, if a company performs in the same, consistent manner over time, it will eventually become great.

Thus, with greatness in mind, it is with rigor that I have begun to approach my position as Future Mayor of Cherryhurst.

Further motivated by a comment once made to me by one of my Thunderbird professors, "one must publish or perish to survive in academia," I am applying Collins’ teachings of rigor to my writing. I am doing so to avoid death in the blogosphere.

You see, bloggers are similar to professors in this respect; they must provide fresh content to not only stay relevant and interesting but to remain alive (or online).

In the past few weeks alone, I have seen countless blogs, founded upon dreams of giving off content to eager audiences, either lying dormant or dropping offline. Dreams dashed.

It is my new mission to provide you, the reader, with a single post every two weeks... or, “fortnightly.”

My initial aim was to post once a week, but weekly blogging proved to be too frequent; I felt rushed and unable to deeply dig into topics. I like a weekend in between posts to relax.

More often than not, two weeks is ample time to dive into a subject, publishing decent content and satisfying my curiosity – which, after all, is the intent of this job.

To the extent that the effects of my driving curiosity can also function as useful reading to you, I will be doubly pleased.

As always, feel free to submit comments below with ideas and concepts that you would like to see melded into future posts. You can also hit me with them directly on Facebook or Twitter.

Until the next fortnight, stay posted.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In Tragedy and Triumph, Brazil Is a Big Player in Aviation

Two weeks into its aftermath, all are aware of the horrific disaster that was Air France 447. En route to Paris, France, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it is believed that the airplane met a series of storms, called a Mesoscale convective system, never clearing the Atlantic Ocean.

Below is an image, charting AF 447’s flight pattern (actual and planned), that I pulled down from Wikipedia. The clear dot marks the spot where communication was lost with the crew and plane.

216 passengers and 12 crew members, representing 34 nations, were aboard the Airbus 330-200. All lives were lost, and as of this writing, merely 50 bodies are recovered.

AF 447’s black box, located in the plane’s tail, is not yet found, and could be as deep as 9,800 feet, resting on the mountainous ocean floor. Only two weeks remain before its "pinger" quits. Dying with the black box's signal would be any hope of telling evidence related to the crash.

This is not the first aviation accident associated with Brazil. In fact, there have been several.

Many remember the runway accident and explosion at São Paulo's inner city airport, Congonhas, in 2007, involving the Brazilian airline, TAM. There have been untold accidents in Brazil's Amazon Rainforest, one as recently as February of this year, killing 24 people.

While it does have blemishes upon its name, Brazil’s role in aviation is rich. Rich in more ways than one.

First, in its extreme wealth. Brazil's wealthy regularly charter aircraft across the country's cityscapes. This wealth contributes to its place as the third largest market for business aircraft.

And second, in its history.

Still today, the name of Albert Santos-Dumont, often called the “Father of Aviation,” is brought up in conversation among Brazilians, at times in a slight to the Wright Brothers. Adding significance to Santos-Dumont's prominance, Rio’s regional service airport bears his namesake.

My grandfather, as a young man in the United States Navy, was stationed in Natal, Brazil until December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. A neutral country for most of World War II, Brazil eventually declared war on Germany in late August, 1942, thus siding with the Allies.

Natal is known as the “Corner of the Continent” and was, before and during the war, the largest US military base outside of its territory. This strategic position was set up to patrol the south and central waters of the Atlantic, mostly used for the monitoring of Germany’s U-boat activity.

In 2003, I visited Natal, for myself, to get a sense for what it must have been like at that time. In the picture below, I am seated on a jet bound for Recife—prior to takeoff, of course.

Perhaps the key component of Brazil's aerospace influence today is the once-nationalized and now-private conglomerate, Embraer, or Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica, S. A., which is one of the largest manufacturers of commercial, corporate and military jets.

Also in 2003, I visited Embraer's São José dos Campos, São Paulo headquarters. A friend of mine and his dad are both employees of the company, and they invited me to check out the facility. The corporate campus was a scene, with its formidable workforce.

In Flight 447, and for that matter, any aviation accident, it is not easy to find security. However, I have no doubt that, as for Brazil's future role in aviation, its continued presence is a safe bet.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Smoothie Operator

As consistently as the sun rises—and at about the same time of the morning—I find myself in front of a blender, mixing together tasty and refreshing fruit smoothies.

I like to blend smoothies of all kinds; I always have. I especially like doing so now that I am married to Emily. She enjoys drinking them as much as I like making them.

We were given a Waring 60th Anniversary Blender as a wedding gift. Simple and of solid brushed chrome, this blender is straight forward and powerful.

While the Covey counter packs punch, the secret to mixing consistently delish smoothies is not in the blender. Most any blender will do, so long as it is durable. It is what is in the blender that counts, and keeping a half-dozen or so reliable staples in the kitchen is critical.

So, what do I keep in-house to rock steady smoothies, day in and day out?

I always have a bunch of bananas on hand. Smoothies do not have to contain bananas, but I find that this yellow fruit gives them a creamy texture. The more banana included, the creamier the smoothie. I sometimes toss two in the blender, depending upon what I am mixing, and it is all goodness.

It does not matter much which brand of bananas you buy; I prefer Earth University, available at Whole Foods Market, because I notice that other brands of bananas turn brown more quickly than these. But any brand should work. If my bananas do begin to brown, I slice them and pop them in the freezer. When it comes to smoothie material, frozen bananas do just as well as room temperature bananas from the fruit basket.

I keep a 32-fluid-ounce box of Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value Organic Soymilk Unsweetend in the fridge. I buy it in a case of ten, so as to get the standard ten-percent discount that the store gives for bulk purchases. Nine of these boxes remain in the pantry until the one in the fridge runs low. Soy milk, like many ingredients, should be cold when put into smoothies.

I prefer soymilk for our smoothies, because it is complimentary with almost any fruit, and the tasteless, yet nutritional quality of it makes it a better cutter than cow’s milk. Its mere presence provides a liquid texture to smoothies. And this particular brand, with only 80 calories and one gram of sugar, has a certain sweetness without the buzz. (I save my buzz for coffee time.)

Speaking of sweetness, another item I pour into our smoothies is honey, the rawest I can find. Honey is the best way to sweeten smoothies, and several other drinks and foods in fact. Not all smoothies require added sweetness, however. Some fruits, like cantaloupe, for example, are perfectly sweet as they are.

If the budget is not tight, I pick up flaxseed oil from Whole Foods or The Vitaimn Shoppe. Both stores carry and manufacture a variety of flaxseed oils. I do not know which type is best, with or without lignans, so I usually select the most affordable option.

The two most relevant points I can make about flaxseed: the oil is easier to clean than is the ground seed itself and and it is a super-efficient way to get a daily dosage of essential fatty acid. Despite its benefits, when it comes to smoothie-making, flaxseed is not for the faint of heart.

Another ingredient that is not easy on the pocketbook, but I like it, is pure cranberry juice. 100% pure. For whoever has tried pure cranberry juice, it is tart. So with that in mind, when I add cranberry juice to our smoothies, honey also finds its way in the mix, simply to even the balance.

There are a couple of cranberry juices that I have seen in the marketplace: one is R.W Knudsen Family's Just Cranberry the other is L&A Juice's All Cranberry. Neither is cheap; but nor is much of either needed.

Mint, or mentha, is a cool ingredient. I grow mint in our backyard. Mint does not belong in all smoothies, but it goes well with most blends. Mint is an item that, like honey, deserves judgment on when to include it, depending upon the seasonal variety of fruit you select. Mint tastes great with watermelon, methinks.

Perhaps the key ingredient to our smoothies is açaí. I order ours from Sambazon, "the global leader in açaí." I select a 76-pack of Pure Açaí, and now that it is available, Pure Fusion, a 50-50 mix of Açaí and Acerola, another heart-healthy Brazilian fruit. The Pure Fusion, like the Pure Açaí, is available in a 32- or 76-pack. For a number of reasons, which I will not delve into in this post, if you are buying açaí in the US, there is no better supplier than the folks at Sambazon.

The final and most fun ingredient for our typical smoothie: one seasonal fruit of choice. It is the variable nature of this addition that gets my juices flowing. This is a smoothie’s "spice," if you will. If not for the seasonal fruits, smoothie-making could become blah and boring.

Local seasonal fruits are best. In spring and summer, Texas soil provides some top-notch fruits, such as peaches during this time of year, and they all work to flavor smoothies in their own way.

So, if you made it this far, you now have my recipe for consistent homemade smoothies. It is not a messy exercise and does not take long. Smoothies are an energizing and healthy way to start the day. I rarely measure how much of anything to include, because it really does not matter. If you have more than usual of a fruit that is ripe, then add it. If you want a thicker smoothie, then add less soy milk or try adding oatmeal or granola.

No smoothie is the same, but having a few staples with you helps to ensure that your smoothies will be just as delicious as the ones we have each morning in our casa.

I hope to dive deeper into the subject of fruit smoothies, and I want your feedback on what more you would like to know. I can provide a deeper look at açaí and acerola. I can look closer into the nutritional aspects of smoothies. How about seasonal fruits? Which ones are grown when and in what region? Juice shops? I can peer further into those, wherever I encounter them, be it in the United States or elsewhere. You tell me. What more about fruit and smoothies would you like to know?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lead Your (Social) Network

Your personal and professional networks can provide you with the unique opportunity to lead people. If you have not done so, take stock of these networks, understanding their composition (i.e., who is in them) as well as where the connections you have can contribute to your success as a leader.

I was recently directed to a website replete with inspiration: TED Ideas worth spreading. On TED, one can explore a vast trove of speeches by figures who head industries and all else. I came across a speech by Seth Godin that grabbed my attention. (If you have marketing experience, you might recognize Godin for coining the term, "permission marketing.")

I recommend watching all 17:23 minutes of his speech, loosely titled, The Tribes We Lead. Godin struck a chord with me, alluding to networks (a.k.a., tribes), and how leading them can translate into the spread of ideas. Rested on this concept, he argues to his audience, is their chance to boldly assume a position of leadership.

None of us is immune to the powerful phenomenon that is social networking. As surely as you are reading this sentence now, you have participated in some form of networking online. Even if social networking is not your bag, you have at least browsed Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The explosion in social networking allows you to accelerate the number of people with whom you regularly connect. Social networking allows you to organize individuals around a single interest. In a recently published article in Fast Company, How Chris Hughes Helped Launch Facebook and the Barack Obama Campaign, there is a lesson in how such organization can develop on the broadest of levels.

The best part about it is that you can actually choose the network you want to lead. To try it out, visit Ning or Twibes. At either site, you can instantly whip up a group of like-minded individuals to follow you, provided the content and direction you contribute has meaning and relevance. Whenever before could you so quickly assemble and sustain your own networks?

In his latest blog entry, Empowering Natural Leaders in ‘Facebook Generation’ Ways, Gary Hamel notes “Natural leaders today have the means to challenge ossified and change-resistant power structures. Thanks to the reach of the Web, a lowly but brilliantly effective leader can mobilize followers across a global organization and beyond—by writing an influential blog, by using that notoriety to get a platform at industry events, by hosting a Web-based discussion on a hot topic, by building an online coalition of similarly-minded individuals, by disseminating a provocative position paper to hundreds or thousands of fellow employees, and by using email to ensure that supporters show up at key meetings.”

So the digital age might have created more opportunities to lead, but will it create better leaders? Our leaders will look different, perhaps younger (see Chris Hughes and his Facebook-founding brethren). There will be people who are perceived as effective leaders because they start a “movement,” to use Godin’s term, but I contend that starting a movement does not necessarily mean you are an effective leader.

While on a relative basis our networks have increased, some of us have become lazy, relying less on interpersonal skills to connect with our "offline" networks. While we know more people, and much about them, we are, in many cases, less intimately connected than ever before.

Your "offline" connections instill and sustain the trust between you and your networks, and ultimately, your leadership is best tried among those who you know personally.

New opportunities to lead will come to you in the form of your social networks. If appropriately capitalized upon, these opportunities will lead to movements, which will then be carried on as sustainable ideas into the offline world, and it is there where the mettle of a true leader gets tested.